“Don’t worry or be too anxious about your career. You just have to enjoy the process.”
Sebastian’s dream started when he was a teenager; his work was first published when he was 16. Since then, this Vietnam-born half-Korean, half-Chinese photographer’s work has graced prestigious fashion magazines such as American Vogue, German Vogue, Russian Vogue, Numéro, Numéro Tokyo, Interview, i-D, Muse, and others.
But he eased into his career; he took his time. While in college in California, he held off on taking a position as an assistant for the legendary photographer Richard Avedon. Despite a recommendation from his professor, Sebastian deferred – he wanted a college degree before he could be ready.
However, when the opportunity with Avedon presented itself again a year later, he couldn’t let it pass by again. He jumped on the position and finished school with internship credits. He would later assist – Avedon and Steven Meisel – until the age of 32.
“At the beginning, assisting Richard Avedon was really hard for me. It was like being in boot camp. I started as the fourth assistant in his studio, which was one of the last traditional studios. I wasn’t just a photo assistant; I went to his studio during weekends to do his personal things like laundry as well. I assisted him very closely.
“You are missing a lot if you only try to learn the technical part of photography while you are assisting. Assisting is really important in order to build relationships and learn how the industry works. Even if you are big in Germany and China, coming to New York is a new start since you need to build a foundation to start working with people in New York. The relationships you make will all reconnect later.”
“I think one of the keys to success as a fashion photographer is molding yourself to meet different demands as a problem-solving process, which can be hard. If you enjoy this, solving one problem gives you excitement and you go on to the next problem to solve, but if you don’t enjoy the process, you become discouraged. I believe the number one reason why people stop what they do or what they want to do is because they feel discouraged.”
Sebastian sees his industry through an unfiltered lens. “I don’t have total control of my career. I still hustle and am very conscious of everything I do. Some of my favorite photographers from the past are not in the business anymore. I thought about the reason for a while, and realized that fashion photography is a part of the fashion trend; fashion photographers are not that different from models.”
Sebastian realized thinking about career pressure was extremely discouraging. In order to relieve himself from the pressure, Sebastian thought about enjoying the process instead. After all, he had the best seven years of his career while assisting Steven Meisel.
“The truth is, pressuring yourself doesn’t contribute to you happiness and does not make you a better person at work,” he said.
Even though Sebastian emphasized the importance of hard work and patience as keys to success, he didn’t forget to give advice on how to enjoy life: “Don’t worry or be too anxious about your career. You just have to enjoy the process,” Sebastian said.
“Let’s say you have a certain goal like being a top photographer who shoots top fashion publications. If you don’t enjoy the process you definitely cannot get there.”
After all these years, Sebastian’s advice clearly paid off.